Now that we have defined and separated the IT player from the rest of the league, we are ready to define what team management needs to do to win a championship.
Step 1 – “Acquire at least 1 IT player, but I would recommend 2”
This step is easily the hardest because IT players don’t just fall into your lap. There are three ways to obtain an IT player – (1) through the draft (Jordan – Bulls), (2) through a trade or free agency (Shaq – Heat, Arenas - Wizards) or (3) through a trade or free agency before the player is an IT player and he blossoms into an IT player (Butler – Wizards). The one thing that derails the process almost immediately is when a team pays a non-IT player, IT player money. I could write an entire posting with examples of this “crime” to a franchise, but for your sake, I will stick with Warrior examples – Jamison, Richardson, and Dunleavy are the best and most recent examples.
Step 2 – “Build a team that fills the holes that your IT players cannot”
This can be much easier than step 1 if your GM has any understanding of his team. Let’s use the Bulls of the 90s as an example.
Besides Magic Johnson, Jordan could do more on the basketball court than anyone who has ever played the game. However, he could not guard a center or power forward, so the Bulls needed to find players to guard both of these positions. They didn’t need a superstar like Karl Malone who would demand the ball on the offensive end. They just needed players that would provide above-average defense with a little rebounding mixed in. Here are some examples of players they signed over the years to fill this need: Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Dennis Rodman and Will Perdue.
Of course the Bulls had other problems. Jordan would frequently get double teamed and Scottie Pippen would rarely be left alone during these double teams. They needed guys who could knock down an open jump shot. Here are some examples of the players they had to fill this need: B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson, Steve Kerr, and Wennington (think this guy was valuable to the Bulls?).
The point is that Bill Wennington was worth 2 cents on the dollar to almost every other team in the NBA but the Bulls. He was, however, a perfect fit in Chicago. In addition, none of the players listed in this example got max money, but they were all worth every penny they were paid. The Bulls front office knew that and they have six rings to prove it.
Step 3 – “Get a head coach that doesn’t screw it all up”
The reason I put this as step 3 is, if you don’t have steps 1 and 2 completed, you have no chance of winning no matter how good your coach is (see Larry Brown with the ’05-’06 Knicks). Phil Jackson was a very important part of the Bulls and Lakers because he knew how to keep the IT players happy while convincing the “puzzle piece” players that they did not need 15 shots a night and were just that, pieces to the puzzle. Once given all the pieces, he made them work together and NBA Championships were the result.
(Of course, if you follow this blue print, it doesn’t guarantee you a championship (Jazz – Malone, Stockton and Sloan). However, if you do not follow it, you have little chance of winning one – I know there is an exception to the rule out there so I am not going to say NO chance)
So where does your team fit?
Trying to complete Step 1
“Worst Team” – Bobcats (It was too easy to pick the Knicks)
The Bobcats are in as bad a shape as any team in the NBA. They have nobody on their roster that even resembles an IT player and they are paying Gerald Wallace and Jason Richardson IT player money. In addition to their flawed roster, they are on the verge of not finishing in the bottom three of the league which would most likely prolong their NBDL level of basketball for the foreseeable future. Their only chance of acquiring an IT player over the next three years is through the draft and that is not very promising.
“Best Team(s)” – Bulls and Sonics
Let’s start with the Bulls. They are eerily similar to the 03-04 Warriors because their roster is full of non-IT players that think they deserve big money. Luol Deng has a nice mid-range game, but he plays little to no defense. Gordon has a better offensive game than Deng, but is a tweener that can get manhandled on the defensive end by most decent shooting guards in the league. Both of these guys think they should get big money just like Richardson and Murphy did. The Warriors ended up dishing out the cash and almost set the franchise back 5 more years (We all know that luck and savvy trades saved the Warriors from extending their playoff-less streak to 20 years). The Bulls have to stay strong and be willing to watch both Deng and Gordon walk if they continue demand too much money at the end of the year. The bottom line for the Bulls is that there are a lot of IT players who want to play in Chicago and their chance of picking up an IT player through free agency or a trade remains high.
The Sonics are probably in the best position of all the “trying to complete Step 1” teams. While many of you would argue that Durant is an IT player, I don’t think you can call him one of the elite players at this point. However, he has the highest ceiling of any of the players in his draft class, so it is safe to say the Sonics may not have to make any moves to complete step one. They are also positioned to have a top 4 pick in the draft, so they could have two potential IT players in their early 20s by next year. Finally, I have to give mad kudos to the Sonics front office for letting Rashard Lewis walk – is anybody listening in Chicago? The future looks bright for the Supes.
(Too bad nobody in Seattle will get to witness this potential dynasty)
Other teams in this category: Nets, Sixers, Knicks, Pacers, Bucks, Hawks, Kings, Grizzles
Trying to complete Step 2
“Worst Team” – LA Clippers
This team has Brand and Kaman down low, which is nice, but they have NOTHING on the outside. (I say nothing because Sam Cassel is either hurt or disinterested, which is the same thing in my book). I don’t think they could be farther away from completing step 2 if they tried. By March they are going to let one lucky fan start at point guard each night and he also gets to pick which cheerleader is going to play the 2. They need help badly and I just don’t think ownership has enough commitment to winning to get the job done.
“Best Team” – Nuggets and Cavs
I will start with the Nuggets. Iverson and Carmelo are everything you would ever want in a tandem of IT players. They play hard every night, can score the basketball at will and play above-average defense. I also like Camby as a nice “puzzle piece” player because he is unselfish and still blocks a decent amount of shots. The problem they have is at the point and interior defense. Losing Steve Blake has hurt them more than anyone could have predicted. Also, Carmelo and Camby are not a strong enough 4-5 combination and Najera is too small to guard an above average 4. Unfortunately for them, Nene could be the answer down low, but he is always sick or hurt, and K-mart is playing on one leg, which makes him ineffective. This team is good, but they still need one more impact role player.
The Cavs are the best team in this category because they have the best IT player in basketball, LeBron James. Unlike Kobe, Shaq and countless other IT players, LeBron almost single-handedly led his team to the finals. However, they had about zero chance to win the finals because LeBron had as bad a supporting cast as anyone in the NBA. I could write an entire article on their shortcomings, but I will keep it simple. They killed their chances of building anything with the Zydrunas Ilgauskas (sorry Dave) and Larry Hughes signings. Ilgauskas is too slow on both ends of the court in the “new” NBA and Hughes … well, Hughes is not very good at anything except stealing the basketball and getting tattoos. They need a lot of help, but I think the most paramount problem is having a dynamic big man down low. Ben Wallace helps on the defensive end, but someone who can put the ball in the basket and run the floor would really do the most for the Cavs.
Other teams in this category: Blazers, Wizards, T-wolves, Clippers, Rockets
Trying to complete Step 3
“Worst Team” – Raptors
I am not afraid to say it – I like the Raptors. I think they have a good team that could be very dangerous come playoff time. They have a nice nucleus of players that understand their roles. In my eyes, they are not quite ready to take the next step because (1) another IT player would not hurt and (2) I don’t think Sam Mitchell has proven he can take a good team and make them great. However, I will say I think he is a good coach. I would not be surprised to see the Raptors make a run in the playoffs.
“Best Team” – Hornets
It is no mystery that the Hornets are having a special year. They have the most underrated starting 5 in the game. They really have almost no holes. Chris Paul is an IT player and he makes everyone around him better. The Tyson Chandler signing looks like a steal at this point. My big concern is Byron Scott. While he did lead the Nets to the NBA Finals, that team could have gone to the Finals without Scott so long as Kidd was at the helm. In the end, I just can’t see Byron Scott out-coaching Gregg Popovich, Sloan, or Jackson in the playoffs.
(Two more things on the Hornets – (1) This team would be MUCH more interesting if they still played in Oklahoma City. Their home court advantage would match Oakland Arena and they are better than the Warriors. (2) Phil Jackson has to be the coach of this team in three years. He leaves the Lakers because he foresees the decline of Kobe and takes another “all they need is a good coach” team over the top by taking the control of the Hornets. The ultimate irony in this scenario is that Kobe kills the Hornets franchise in Charlotte by forcing a trade with the Lakers and then saves the Hornets franchise in New Orleans by breaking down and forcing Phil to leave. The big loser = Charlotte)
Other team in this category: Magic
Ready for a Championship
Here is the short list of who can win a championship this year:
“Least likely” – Jazz
The Jazz have EVERYTHING you need to win a championship - IT players (Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer), puzzle piece players (Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Mehmet Okur) and a good coach (Sloan). However, I think they are the least likely because they are streaky, and streaky teams don’t run hot for 6 weeks in the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, they would have to play Dallas in the first round and that would be followed by two rounds with Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans or the Lakers. To me, the best case scenario for the Jazz would be Dallas, then New Orleans and then Phoenix. I agree – I don’t realistically see them getting through that gauntlet. However, I would not be absolutely shocked to see them make it through and win it all, so they are a contender.
“My pick to win it all” – Lakers
I really want to pick Detroit, but I just can’t. The Lakers match up well with everybody, and an inspired Kobe is a scary-good Kobe. Gasol is playing like the Laker’s second city is Barcelona. He has mailed it in for the last three years with the Grizzlies and now he looks rejuvenated. Their key puzzle piece players are Derek Fisher (rock solid), Jordan Farmar (where did he come from??) and Ronny Turiaf (X-factor if Bynum does not come back). The only thing that keeps this team from winning is the Gary Sheffield curse aka Lamar Odom. (Lets all agree that the ’97 World Series never happened). Like Gary Sheffield, Odom is a freak as a player and strikes fear in the opposing team by just stepping onto the court. However, they bring nothing but trouble to their current franchises and bad karma only seems to follow them. In summation, the only hope I have as a Warrior fan is for Odom to kill the ’08 Lakers like Sheffield did the ’04 Yankees. I am not holding my breath.
Other teams in this category: Celtics, Pistons, Suns, Spurs, Mavs
You now know more than 2/3 of the GMs in the NBA. Please keep this two part series near you at all times when consulting any future personnel moves by the Warriors or other teams.
So what’s up with the Warriors, you ask?
They are trying to complete step 2. The supporting cast for Baron and Ellis, besides Captain Jack, is pathetic. Everyone keeps talking about saving money to sign Ellis and Biedrins. While I agree with the Ellis part, I have to defer to my Bulls comments when it comes to Biedrins. He is worth $8 mm a year and no more. If you think he is worth more, please think about this fact – Andrew Bynum will be the center for the Lakers for the next 12 years and he is going to eat Biedrins for lunch every time they play. Bottom line: I do not understand why we would want to pay a player close to max money who (1) is NEVER going to be an IT player and (2) will make the Lakers look really good over the next 12 years. Now that Cohan has proven he doesn’t want to spend extra money and assuming that is not going to change, we need to play Belinelli and Wright, because we need to understand what their value is. Belinelli has trade written all over his face because Ellis is going to fill the role of the 2 for the foreseeable future. Based on his recent play, Wright might just be a keeper and it is time to give him his chance.
My outside the box thought on the Warriors for this week is:
Play Wright and see how he does playing the 4. If he shows signs that he can handle the position in the future, the Warriors should do the following:
Sign and trade Biedrins to the Sixers for Dalembert straight up.
Lose a little offense to gain a little defense.
Until next time …